Ms. Atkinson does not play the same kinds of flagrant time tricks here that made Life After Life so dramatic. She needn’t erase one story to tell the next. But she does skip easily back and forth among decades, so that Teddy’s boyhood in the 1920s or Queen Elizabeth II’s 2012 Diamond Jubilee are both within easy reach of any other point in the book’s timeline … Structure, and its way of coalescing from the seemingly casual into the deliberate, has been a main attraction in other Atkinson books. In this one, the main attraction is Teddy, and the way his glorious, hard-won decency withstands so many tests of time. Everything about his boyhood innocence is reshaped by his wartime ordeals, which are rendered with terrifying authenticity thanks to the author’s research into real bombers’ recollections. And after the war he re-enters a world in which he can take nothing for granted.
Atkinson’s book covers almost a century, tracks four generations, and is almost inexhaustibly rich in scenes and characters and incidents. It deploys the whole realist bag of tricks, and none of it feels fake or embarrassing. In fact, it’s a masterly and frequently exhilarating performance by a novelist who seems utterly undaunted by the imposing challenges she’s set for herself … Taken together, Life After Life and A God in Ruins present the starkest possible contrast. In the first book, there’s youth and a multitude of possible futures. In the second, there’s only age and decay, and a single immutable past. This applies not only to the characters, but to England itself, which is portrayed over and over as a drab and diminished place. The culprit is obvious — it’s the war itself, ‘the great fall from grace.’
In A God in Ruins, she’s written not only a companion to her earlier book, but a novel that takes its place in the line of powerful works about young men and war … A God in Ruins contains many...harrowing scenes, rendered in economical detail and occasional black humor. Atkinson’s skills as a suspense writer serve her well here: It’s not till the final pages of the novel that we learn who makes it through the war and who doesn’t. As powerfully as it conveys life-and-death struggles in the air, A God in Ruins also compels readers to recognize the courage of those in the war’s aftermath, who were left to quietly pick up the pieces.
You don't have to read Life After Life to get A God in Ruins, and sadly, the new book doesn't live up to the promise of its predecessor. The first novel's innovative structure made it exciting, but its true charm was in the rich family life drawn by Atkinson (with no shortage of morbid wit)...Teddy is surrounded by far less appealing characters in A God in Ruins, particularly in the first half of the book … All the emotion of the novel has pooled at the end, where the significant moments of Teddy's life tumble out in a cascade: We see the end of his marriage and join him on bombing runs over Europe. Visceral and deeply researched, the passages in the planes show Atkinson at her finest. These beautifully wrought, deeply felt scenes give meaning to what came before, but with the inverted narrative, arrive too late.
The novel unfolds episodically, jumping from 1944 to 1925 to 2012 and backward and forward again — and, no matter the time, the narrator knows what lies ahead...but that narrator is sly; withholding some details while providing others, until the book’s final pages seem to explode in light, like a bird flying into the sun … You don’t have to have read Life After Life to understand and appreciate this book (though you might miss a couple of references). But I can’t imagine that you wouldn’t want to experience both, for the pleasure of Atkinson’s prose — every page feels like a generous treasure hunt for gems — and for the feeling each book gives, of becoming lost within something bigger than ourselves, something grand and dazzling and real.
The narrative jumps forward and backward between wartime and this unexpectedly long future of Teddy and his offspring, evoking the earlier book's time-traveling without mimicking its alternate-history conceit. Atkinson is a master of the off-kilter chronology, and here it not only preserves a sense of mystery, but also lends a vertiginous air of fragility to the narrative. This is quite a feat, since we know from the start that Teddy survives the war. If Ursula's superpower was rebirth, Teddy's is beating the odds. Yet Atkinson insists that we see Teddy's survival as a fluke rather than a triumph, depicting battle sequences in harrowing detail and larding the narrative with accounts of random deaths in flight training and on the ground, many gruesome and all drawn from real-life sources … Ursula may be ‘the family philosopher,’ but Teddy is the family poet; where her book is speculative, his is achingly beautiful.
Atkinson’s tone has become more careful and meditative, as if she had set out to write the adagio second movement to Life After Life, and had substituted a single sad strain for the first’s flourish of melodies and countermelodies. I’m thinking orchestrally because Atkinson excels at conveying bigness. She loads her observational, plot-driven prose with a sense of larger significance, of elements aligning … The world conjured by Atkinson’s god in ruins—a man, in other words, according to the epigraph, or perhaps a woman—is one suffused with fictionality, one in which small flickers and giveaways abound. In addition to the jumpy chronology (we move from 1925 to 1980 in the space of a page), Atkinson will present the same scene from multiple perspectives … If A God in Ruins suffers from a touch too much tidiness, if it overcalculates the glories of a sensitive “artistic soul,” those flaws pale next to Atkinson’s wit, humanity, and wisdom.
Atkinson explores almost 100 years in the life of this quiet Englishman and his family and comrades-in-arms via a thoroughly disjointed chronology. She has statements, actions and decisions repeat at intervals, across hundreds of pages. Time passes and events take place in a jumble but eventually disclose the fuller meaning and tragic gravity of matters first understood only dimly or, like Teddy with respect to a mysterious period in his wife Nancy’s life, understood absolutely wrongly … In all of this, Teddy endures a series of revelations and reversals of fortune that find continuity and fine tension through his private vow, before a 1944 bombing run over Nuremberg...With her excellent new book, Atkinson reveals just how admirable such an ordinary man’s life can be, and what heroism lies in living as decently as possible through times that are far from decent.
Teddy may get just one lifetime, but Atkinson does not deliver it in linear, chronological fashion. The novel moves freely — sometimes from one sentence to the next — across almost a century and four generations of the Todd family, from Teddy's parents, stalwart Hugh and dramatic Sylvie, to his grandchildren, the hapless boy Sunny and Bertie, the sweetly sensible girl whom Teddy considers ‘his legacy, his message to the world’ … Atkinson does a skillful job of interweaving history and fiction. Even more impressively, she combines brilliantly rendered traditional narrative and warmly believable characters with a postmodern sense of the nature of fiction, the story aware of itself as story. (Just wait for her ending flourish.)
Kate Atkinson's novel A God in Ruins imagines the long life that Teddy lives after the war, into his 90s, with both the heartaches and the changes those decades bring. American readers will naturally think of Teddy as one of the Greatest Generation, those World War II vets who fought heroically and never wanted to talk about their service … While Atkinson granted Ursula 17 or more lives in the temporally tricky Life After Life, she limits Teddy to a single long one in A God in Ruins, though she moves deftly back and forth through his life span. In compelling scenes, she captures the routine and the tedium of a bomber pilot's life, punctuated by random moments of airborne terror.
A God in Ruins is the story of Teddy’s war and its legacy, ‘a companion piece rather than a sequel’, according to the author. At first glance it appears to be a more straightforward novel than Life After Life, though it shares the same composition, flitting back and forth in time … This is a novel about war and the shadow it casts even over generations who have never known it, but it is also a novel about fiction. Though it may appear to lack the bold formal conceit that made Life After Life so original, don’t make the mistake of thinking that Atkinson has abandoned her interest in authorial playfulness. The book ends with a breathtaking volte-face which will infuriate some readers and delight others, forcing us to reconsider how we understand fiction and the uses of the imagination.
It's about Teddy Todd, Ursula's brother and the humblest, kindest, most melancholy hero you will ever meet. The novel takes its title from Emerson's ‘A man is a god in ruins,’ and Teddy is, from the moment we meet him, a fellow whose godly impulses do not stand a chance. A talentless poet who's miserable in his bank job, he hopes the war will give his life purpose … A dazzling stylist, Atkinson is incapable of writing a dull sentence. The narrative frequently blends past, present and future within the same paragraph, giving time the brush-off. Again and again the story rises, then falls. English skylarks swoop across the sky. Young Icaruses leap from burning planes and plummet to earth.
Fresh from the excellent Life After Life, Atkinson takes another sidelong look at the natures of time and reality in this imaginative novel … Atkinson’s narrative is without some of the showy pyrotechnics of its predecessor. Instead, it quietly, sometimes dolefully looks in on the players as, shell-shocked by a war that has dislocated whole generations and nations, they go about trying to refashion their lives and, of course, regretting things done, not done, and undone as they do.